Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Republican policies, super-wealthy donors, and the definition of second degree murder

"Political decisions have consequences, some of them lethal."

--Dr. Samuel Dickman, Harvard Medical School, University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, "Study: Thousands of People Will Die In States That Don't Expand Medicaid," Talking Points Memo, January 31, 2014.  

Above: A lithograph depicting death and sorrow, by Boris Gorelick (1912-1984), created while he was in the WPA's art program, ca. 1935-1941. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

A few months ago, UNICEF reported that about 600,000 children under the age of 5 die from air pollution every year. More recently, the World Health Organization reported that about 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die from polluted environments of all types (air, water, second-hand smoke, etc.).

Here in the U.S., the American Lung Association reports that "more than half of all Americans--166 million people--live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthful levels of [air] pollutants." A few years ago, researchers at MIT concluded that "air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths each year" in the United States. In Utah, where air quality is particularly bad, "Recent studies have linked exposure to urban air pollution with stillbirth, preterm birth, birth defects and low birthweight."  

We also know that many thousands of Americans will die sooner than they have to if Medicaid expansion is repealed - and repeal is something that Republicans and their super-wealthy donors are craving to do. Without Medicaid, millions of low-income Americans will delay or avoid doctor visits, for fear of the cost, and/or will not be able to afford their prescription medicines. (See, e.g., "Study: Thousands Of People Will Die In States That Don't Expand Medicaid," Talking Points Memo, January 31, 2014; "I Watched My Patients Die of Treatable Diseases Because They Were Poor," Alternet, November 19, 2013; and "Repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually," Washington Post, January 23, 2017).

Above: This WPA poster embodies one of the most important aspects of the New Deal ethos: that your health and life should not be dependent on your income and wealth. During the New Deal, unemployed health care providers were hired to address the medical needs of low-income Americans; thousands of hospitals and clinics were built or repaired; immunization campaigns were started; drinking water was purified and wastewater removed; diseases and illnesses like malaria, pneumonia, and hookworm were greatly reduced. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Despite all the evidence of death related to environmental pollution and lack of health insurance, Republicans and their super-wealthy donors are busy repealing the Affordable Care Act, eliminating regulations that restrict environmental pollution, cutting the budget of the EPA, and adhering to Sarah Palin's command to pump more fossil fuel exhaust into the air - "Drill, baby, drill."

In relation to all this, it's interesting to consider the definition of second degree murder. The definition varies from place to place, but one common definition is highlighted by Justia: "when a defendant does not intend to kill, but acts with a complete and utter reckless disregard for human life, or 'depraved heart,' this mental state is also sufficient for second-degree murder. One common example of 'depraved heart murder' is where an individual shoots a gun into a crowd. He or she may not intend to kill, or to cause a particular person serious harm, but such actions demonstrate a total indifference to human life."

Isn't it amazing how similar the policies of the Republican party are to the definition of second degree murder? For example, despite the overwhelming evidence that air pollution causes many millions of people to die every year, Republicans want to pump even more air pollution into the environment. To me, that seems like a "reckless disregard for human life" and a "total indifference to human life."

Think of it like this: Suppose you are burning toxic waste on your property, and doctors, coroners, and scientists inform you that the smoke you're creating is sickening and killing your neighbors. But, instead of stopping, you burn even more toxic waste. You may not specifically intend to kill your neighbors, but your continued burning, even after being warned of the deadly consequences, is in fact killing them, and thus you're showing a "reckless disregard for human life" and a "total indifference to human life." That's second degree murder.

Republicans and their super-wealthy donors have been warned, time and time again, by thousands of scientists, and by organizations that have been well-respected for decades (like UNICEF, the American Lung Association, and Harvard Medical School), that the results of their policies are deadly (refusing to expand Medicaid, continuing to burn fossil fuels, etc.). And yet, they continue with those policies - even doubling down on them. That's a "reckless disregard for human life." That's a "total indifference to human life." That's second degree murder. But, because Republican politicians wear suits and ties, disguising themselves as leaders, and because tens of millions of us are submissive to their super-wealthy donors, worshiping them as holy "JOB CREATORS," we let them get away with it.

"What we have found is that austerity--severe, immediate, indiscriminate cuts to social and health spending--is not only self-defeating, but fatal."

--David Stuckler, sociologist, Oxford University, and Sanjay Basu, epidemiologist, Stanford University, in "How Austerity Kills," New York Times, May 12, 2013. 

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